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It took a long 50 years, but musician Ba Tu, a member of the HCM City's Theatre Association, has finally reached the pinnacle of his career.
Ba Tu says the spirit of the Vietnamese people is reflected in the sound of their traditional instruments. , Photo: VNA
As a traditional music specialist, Tu for years has braved challenges from the music scene's more modern proponents. But after his performances on radio and TV, younger generations are beginning to warm to the music loved and admired by their older relatives.
Because of their newfound fascination with this music, Tu has been working with TV and radio stations to broadcast tai tu (amateur music of the south) and cai luong (reformed opera) programmes. These two art forms are the most popular music genres in the southern region.
Thanks to the support of the Long An Province authorities, Tu recorded and released a collection of 20 CDs featuring tai tu songs.
His CDs feature a variety of styles of authentic tai tu music performed by himself on a dan kim (Vietnamese two-chord string guitar).
Dan kim's strings, which are made of twisted silk or fishing line, are kept at a different tension from European-made string instruments.
The instrument's raised frets allow for the blending of tones that are so important to the proper interpretation of Vietnamese traditional music.
Tu believes that traditional instruments are like history books that reveal secrets about the country's culture, lifestyle and music.
"I think that teaching traditional music will sow the seeds of passion for the art in the hearts and souls of young people. And one day those seeds will grow into large trees," said the 77-year-old.
Tu's seeds started on the land of his birth, Long An Province.
Through his CDs, audiences will discover the beauty of tai tu and receive their first formal exposure to traditional music.
Born in a traditional family, his love for tai tu began when he was a child.
At the age of 14, when his father gave him a dan kim, which is used in tai tu and cai luong, Tu believed that he was destined to be a dan kim player.
He spent nine years studying with veteran musicians Chin Phan, Bay Que and Hai Vo, discovering that the traditional instruments and its musical values were boundless.
During the 1950s, Tu worked for the Tieng Vang Thu Do (Capital's Echo) Troupe, travelling around the region with his dan kim.
Later, while working for Phuoc Thanh and Minh To, two of Sai Gon's leading cai luong troupes, he realised he wanted to play instruments created by southerners.
"My teachers were instrumental in helping me realise that traditional music should be my life and career," said Tu.
He improved his playing of the dan kim and other traditional instruments, including the dan tranh (17-string zither) and sao (flute), all of which are used in royal music and cai luong.
He worked for Sai Gon Cai Luong No 3 Troupe and Tran Huu Trang Theatre, two of the region's leading cai luong groups.
He has participated in many quality shows, providing audiences with an authentic traditional taste.
Music researcher Tran Van Khe said that Tu was known for "playing techniques that produce unusual, bewitching sounds".
"Tu is participating more in the local entertainment scene, and his music has reached even higher levels of quality," he added.
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